As our world continues to thrive and grow, environmentally conscious individuals are worried about the depletion of the earth's many natural resources. Most of their concerns revolve around the condition of the world's air supply, which cannot be easily cleaned once it has been polluted.
The American Lung Association's State of the Air: 2006 report states, "More than 150 million Americans still live in counties where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of air pollution."
The report ranks the cities and counties with the dirtiest air, and provides report cards on the two most pervasive air pollutants: particle pollution and ozone.
As cited on the ALA's website, "ozone is an extremely reactive gas molecule that is the primary ingredient of smog air pollution and is very harmful to breathe. Ozone essentially attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with it. It also damages crops and trees."
The study found that many of the Southern Illinois counties which are located in close proximity to the St. Louis, St. Charles, and Farmington, MO-IL metro area ranked 24th as one of the most ozone-polluted areas in the country.
The ALA study also rated the concentration of particles in the airs. According to the ALA website, particle pollution is composed of "a combination of fine solid particles and aerosols that are suspended in the air we breathe."
Because of their size, you can't see the individual particles but only see the haze that forms when millions of particles blur the spread of sunlight. The Southern Illinois area received a failing grade by the American Lung Association and is listed as one of the worst counties for particle pollution.
Southern Illinois' poor grade is most likely reflected by its abundant plant life, forestry, and cultivated fields. "From my perspective, high pollen count with the excess of trees and flowers seems to be the main culprit for air quality issues in the spring," said Doug Cannon.
Cannon is a respiratory therapist at Heartland Regional Medical Center with over 23 years of experience in the health care field. "With the abundance of leaves on the ground, as they decompose, a natural by-product is fungi," said Cannon. "These fungi can be transported through the air with even gentle breezes."
"Having said that, I still encourage everyone to enjoy our abundance of open forests and wildlife in this area," said Cannon. "For Southern Illinois is one of the most beautiful areas in this country," he said.
Although it may be virtually impossible to rid the world's air of ozone-pollution and harmful particles, parents can take steps to ensure that the quality of air in their home is safe for their families by following a few simple rules.
Dr. Matthew Stedelin, of Stedelin Pediatrics in Centralia, a branch of St. Mary's Good Samaritan Hospital in Mt. Vernon, IL, attributes smoking as the number one cause for unnecessary indoor air pollution.
"Smoking in the home causes adverse health effects in children and is the most common way people pollute the air in their own home," Stedelin said. "Looking at children that come from a household that is exposed to smoke we see an increase in ear and sinus infections."
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) states that breathing secondhand smoke can be harmful to children's health, triggering asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections.
"Parents have to remember that not only can they not smoke in the home, but they must be conscious of smoking in the car and outdoors," Stedelin said.
"Smoke sticks to clothing and furniture and still has the ability to effect children," he said.
The USEPA notes that the developing lungs of young children are severely affected by exposure to secondhand smoke because they have little control over their indoor environments.
Children receiving high doses of secondhand smoke, such as those with smoking mothers, run the greatest risk of damaging health effects.
"Most adults can tolerate higher concentrations of indoor air pollution due to size and body composition," said Cannon. "The primary difference is that when the adult is adversely affected, they will change the quality immediately or remove themselves from the affected area until the quality of air is changed."
"The child and especially the infant will usually have no say as to the quality of air in the home setting," added Cannon. "Tobacco smoke and strong cooking aromas are two good examples of pollutants kids cannot control," he said.
Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew are another major cause for indoor air pollution. Mold is especially problematic to our region because of our high humidity and high heat. Southern Illinois receives a lot rain at this time of the season. Moisture can be a huge problem for homeowners as these are the optimal conditions for mold growth.
According to Cannon, mold is also a major source of allergic reactions causing rhinitis, runny nose, and an irritant for those with immune problems.
"Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis, which resembles bacterial pneumonia, may occur with inhalation of mold," said Cannon.
"Mold is floating in the air in every home. If this mold lands on a wet surface, it will digest whatever organic material it lands on and continue to grow. Molds can rot wood and drywall and also cause structural damage if left untreated," said Cannon.
According to Southern Illinois University's Safety Officer, Jim Hancock, the best thing you can do to control mold in the home is identify the source of the problem and eliminate it.
"Mold and mildew leave an odor, when you go into the home you can usually smell it," said Hancock. "If you have any suspect moist areas in the home such as a crawlspace, the roof, interior pipes, inside cooling systems, or standing water under the house, I suggest you have them inspected."
"Mold and mildew thrive in damp, dark places; once you find the source of the problem, you must clean it up, otherwise the spores will continue to grow," he added.
"The easiest way to maintain clean air is to filter it," said Fowler. "What we do at St. Joseph is filter the incoming air with powerful HEPA-filters that are highly efficient, capturing 99% of most airborne particles."
HEPA is the acronym for high efficiency particulate absorbing or high efficiency particulate air. A HEPA filter can remove 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and other airborne particles from the air.
Fowler changes the filters on a regular basis as a part of the maintenance process. "Ventilation by exhausting air and maintaining and cleaning filters regularly are the easiest and most effective ways to maintain clean air in the hospital and in the home," he said.
"I don't recommend air cleaning units or tabletop air purifiers because they are not as effective as your heating and cooling filter, which is ultimately your best bet," he added.
In order to remove harmful particles that may trigger allergies or allergic reactions from you home's air supply; everyone should vacuum regularly and cover mattresses and pillowcases with a protective layer.
Dust mites are the source of many allergies and live mainly in padding, mattress, carpet, drapes and stuffed animals such as your favorite old bear. It is almost impossible to remove all dust mites in the home.
"We spend one third of our lives in the bedroom," said Dr. Ronald Mings, a board certified allergy specialist from Memorial Hospital of Carbondale.
"I suggest that parents focus on the bedroom, using mattress covers and pillow covers to reduce their child's exposure to these types of irritants," said Mings. "Dust mites can be controlled fairly easily by decreasing the humidity in your home and by covering bedding and pillows," he added.
In order to prevent the spread of dust mites and other particles in your homes vacuuming is a must.
"The older style of bag vacuums stir up the dust and redistribute harmful asthmatic triggers throughout the air and majority of the house," said Cannon. "The newer vacuums with a sponge filter for larger particles and HEPA filters are helpful in removing most dust and allergens from the carpet."
LIVA air doctor—Improve your indoor air quality
You may be having a bad air day every day -- and we are not talking about outdoor air. The indoor air quality in your home may be affecting your health and the health of your family members.
"Indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air quality in almost every case,” says William J. Calhoun, MD, professor of medicine and vice chair of the department of medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
There are potential sources of air pollution in just about every room of your house, but don’t despair. The good news is that there are easy, and affordable, solutions for most of them.
What could be polluting the air in your home? The pollutants that lurk outdoors can be found indoors as well, where they can and do join forces with other irritants. Those can include fumes from combustion devices and gas-fired appliances, not to mention allergens such as pet dander, house dust mites, and mold, Calhoun says.
Bad air can trigger coughing, chest tightness, sore throat, watery or itchy eyes, shortness of breath, and even a full-blown asthma attack. “If you live in a home with chronically poor air quality, you can experience frequent headaches, long lasting colds, and bronchitis as well as chronic asthma,” says E. Neil Schachter, MD, the medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
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